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The South rises again – in eastern Germany

As America marks the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the US Civil War this year, German history buffs have been re-enacting the bloody battles between the Union and Confederacy.

Christian Ortschig’s weekdays are spent working in Germany’s social insurance administration. But on any given Saturday, he might be leading Union troops into battle against the Confederate Army.

Ortschig stands in a field overseeing the military drills of a couple dozen men and women as they prepare for the afternoon’s big battles at the Wild West theme park “El Dorado,” which is located on the outskirts of Templin about 50 miles north of Berlin.

“This is like a film, like theatre,” says Ortschig. “I am not a Union boy. I am not a Rebel boy. I am a German. But when I put on this uniform, I play a Union officer.

Like Ortschig’s Scottish uniform, a lot of the history here is an odd mishmash of fact, fancy, and convenience. Men meticulously dressed in period costumes from the 1860s mingle with soldiers in uniforms from the US Revolutionary War. Conversation seems to focus on the physical trappings – the clothes and the weapons – not difficult issues like slavery or the war’s staggering body count.

Such events happening about once a month in Germany do feel a little bit like drama camp for adults. But most of the people say they come for the history, not just the costumes.

“We know that 200,000 Germans served in the US Civil War. That’s more than 10 percent of the Union soldiers,” Ortschig says. “So this is our history too.”

Ute Frevert is the head of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. She says the choice for Germans to re-enact the Civil War battles may seem odd on the surface, but she explains it this way: “It’s safe.” In Germany, it’s taboo to glorify anything military-related since World War II. So for Germans who want a taste of the pageantry of battle, the 19th-century American conflict fits the bill.

“It’s safe enough for Germans to re-enact the US Civil War because it is so far away,” says Frevert. “It is not something you associate with Germany.”

When asked why Rebels typically outnumber the Yankees at these re-enactment weekends, Frevert says that might be Germans’ sympathy for the losers, or because the Confederates’ costumes are fancier.

“We also think about how it is cruel that brothers fought against each other. I have friends on the other side in the South and I would never shoot on them in real life,” says Melchurs. “This is only a game.”

And it’s the kind of game where the battles end not in bloodshed – but with German beers around a fire.

Read full text at The Local


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